Many teens are hooked on social networking sites and unaware of the dangers of the information they post on their profiles for the world to see.
In a new study, researchers found more than half the teenagers who use the popular social networking site MySpace have posted unsafe, revealing personal information on the site.
The same research group followed up with a second study and found a simple intervention –a single e-mail from “Dr. Meg” – made many of the teen’s change their risky behaviors.
In her e-mail, "Dr. Meg" wrote: ''You seemed to be quite open about sexual issues or other behaviors such as drinking or smoking,'' the e-mail said. ''Are you sure that's a good idea? After all, if I could see it, nearly anybody could.''
Also in the e-mail was information on where to be tested for sexually transmitted diseases.
“As we reviewed the study findings, we wanted to know, why are they engaging in such behavior?” said Dr. Megan Moreno (aka “Dr. Meg”), an assistant professor of pediatrics at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.
“Do they just not get it? Could we send them a warning message to let them know just how public their information really is?”
The results from both studies are published in the January issue of the Archives of Pediatric and Adolescent Medicine.
Ninety percent of teenagers in the U.S. have internet access, according to background research from both studies and nearly half of them use social networking sites, including MySpace and Facebook. MySpace boasts 200 million profiles, according to the studies, and nearly one-quarter of those belong to children under 18.
For the first study, 500 MySpace profiles who listed their age as 18 were randomly selected by researchers.
They found 54 percent of the profiles contained risky information, with 14 percent posting violent information, 24 percent referencing sex and 41 percent referring to drugs and alcohol use.
For the second study, 190 random profiles were selected of people listed between 18 and 20 years of age who displayed risky behaviors, including sexual information. Half of them were then sent an e-mail from Dr. Meg.
Over a three month period, about 42 percent of those who received the e-mail either removed references to sex or substance use or changed their profile from “public” to private which means only their friends can view their page.
Teenagers who refer to risky behavior on their MySpace pages put themselves at risk of online harassment or solicitation for sex, Kimberly Mitchell of University of New Hampshire's Crimes Against Children Research Center, who wasn't involved in the studies, wrote in an accompanying editorial. They also may jeopardize future job prospects.
“Teens live in the here and now, parents need to talk with them about the long-term impact and repercussions that the information posted on these sites can have – now and ten years from now.”
According to another recent study conducted by, The National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy, sexting is a growing trend in middle schools and high schools across the country.
“Sexting” (instead of “texting”) involves sending nude or semi-nude photos from cell phone to cell phone. The sexy snapshots may be intended just for a girlfriend or boyfriend to see, but the photos often wind up being shared. #